Fallout: New Vegas and DLC Post-mortem Interview, Part One

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Chris Avellone has been instrumental in crafting some amazing CRPGs during his career, with his most recent contribution to our role-playing game collections being Fallout: New Vegas and its four story-driven DLC packs. When Chris agreed to do a post-mortem interview about the game and its add-ons, Thomas, Eric, Simone, and I all rounded up a bevy of questions with the expectation that Mr. Avellone would only have time to address a handful of them. To our surprise, he spent a great deal of time answering each and every question in detail, and the end result is a Q&A so massive that we had to split it into two separate installments. Here's the first half for your post-nuclear reading enjoyment:

Our understanding is that Courier's Stash and Gun Runners' Arsenal are the final two add-ons to be released for Fallout: New Vegas. Is that correct?

Courier's Stash and Gun Runners' Arsenal are the last two DLCs in the series, yes. Gotta say, it's sad putting up the chairs and turning off the lights - still, with New Vegas and the DLC run we got to work on Fallout one more time, which is more than we could have hoped for a few years back.

We're grateful for the opportunity, and on the bright side, the Ultimate Edition is coming out early next year, so if people want to do a second run-through with all the new DLC toys and locations, it'll all be in one package.

I do want to warn folks who haven't played the DLCs because they're waiting for the Ultimate Edition, there are a lot of spoilers to follow, so you may want to stop reading now if you don't want the new content revealed until you have a chance to experience it.

Each of the DLCs you've released takes a different approach in both gameplay and setting. What steps did you take to ensure that each one retained a consistent feel with New Vegas, as well as Fallout in general?

We recognized each DLC had to set itself apart, but still fit in the universe. There were a few steps we took, some resource-dependent, others more design-dependent:

- We set up narrative and visual hooks in the Mojave that would tie to the DLCs, whether players recognized them (the Canyon Wreckage was pretty obvious) or only in retrospect (Sierra Madre billboards and posters, Burned Man graffiti and dialogues).

- With respect to the narrative, we made sure we laid the foundation for Ulysses with Nash in Primm to establish the mystery for Lonesome Road, there were plenty of references to the Burned Man in Honest Hearts in the loading screens and in character dialogue that Josh Sawyer (NV Project Director) took care to place in, and I fleshed out the Elijah hooks with Veronica in coordination with Eric Fenstermaker and sat in on Felicia Day's voice recording session for her backstory with Elijah to make sure it connected to Dead Money (although we had to mask the references in the GECK so it didn't spoil what was to come). Eric also helped by setting up evidence of Elijah's path with the bomb collar victims in the Mojave as well.

- Old World Blues was the anomaly, it took everything in the Mojave I thought was odd and tried to give a logical underpinning for it (Cazadores, Nightstalkers), so in essence, Old World Blues was a way of pulling back the curtain and see additional support structure for creatures and events in the Mojave.

- One element of consistency that was resource-dependent was using the existing architecture that had been established both in Fallout 3 and New Vegas, both terrain and actual buildings. We did make an effort to try and use these architectural building blocks in new ways (Lonesome Road being the best example). Seeing consistent architectural styles and props go a long way to making you feel like you're sharing the same space as the Mojave even if other elements of the DLC are new (atmospheric changes such as rain, toxic clouds, dust storms, and so on).

- I do believe because some of us had worked with Fallout for so long, that helped maintain consistency as well. Scotty Everts, who built all the maps for Fallout 1, for example, has been constructing the world of Fallout for a good chunk of his design career, so having his eyes on the New Vegas and DLC terrain was a plus as well.

In past games, you've often put aspects of yourself in the characters and story. Were any characters or themes in the DLCs driven by your own personal perspective?

I try not to put traits of myself or anyone I know into the characters - feel free to chastise me on the forums or shout at me in conferences if you ever get the vibe that I am. I don't feel personality cannibalism is appropriate unless (1) it's a comment about how an outside perspective might feel about the franchise and the world it's in and (2) it's a logical question someone in that world would ask. Even those approaches put you in danger of breaking the 4th wall, so you have to be careful - it can still feel "off" to someone who encounters the character in the game because they can get hints that there's some other subtext going on, and it distracts from the gameplay.

The only time I was conscious of it was the discussions about religion with Kaelyn the Dove in Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer. In terms of franchise perspectives, Kreia in Knights of the Old Republic II isn't shy about breaking down her/my perspectives on the Force. Lastly, with regards to the DLCs, I believe Ulysses is correct, a new framework of civilization is the only solution for the Mojave and the Legion and NCR are self-destructive institutions (the Legion is more a slow burn than NCR is) and both should be cleansed with fire. Also, in Dead Money, Elijah's not only frustrated with human nature but he also makes several pointed comments about hand-holding in RPGs, which may be voicing my views on the matter, since I can get a little grumpy about it.

You explored different themes with each DLC. What themes would you say were the most important in these add-ons, and do you feel that Fallout's story traditions suit focusing on such themes?

Lonesome Road was purposely built around the final image at the end of Fallout 1 - the Vault Dweller walking off into a lonely future. The idea of a protagonist whose home is lost to him, walking off into the wilderness after helping to nurture and protect a place that ultimately exiles him (or where he simply no longer belongs) is one of the hallmarks of Fallout. The sense of abandonment and the lone wanderer connection was important in Lonesome Road, except you're not walking into a lonely future, you're walking into your character's past and seeing what it's done in the present. Ulysses hints that it's possible the player left the West and left NCR because he didn't belong, and that's why he walked the road to the Mojave - but that's Ulysses' perspective, and the motivations for your character are your own.

I think Old World Blues and Lonesome Road had two themes that strongly hooked into Fallout, and have always been there. The theme of Old World Blues was always "the optimistic atomic future of what might have been," and the idea that all of these technological marvels could have saved the world if they had simply had a better guiding hand - it's not the technology to blame, it's the thought behind it.

Dead Money was more of a survivalist horror experience, and the theme of greed and human nature was an experiment that I felt fit with the adventure arc, so I went with it. I did feel that Fallout could use some more struggle-for-survival elements, and that was part of it as well - in short, I wanted miracle items like Stimpaks to feel amazing again rather than cause players to shrug.

One of Dead Money's most unique features was the Sierra Madre itself, a resort and casino that was transformed into a deadly and dreary place. Has juxtaposition of old-world decadence and the darker side of life been a design or narrative goal of yours throughout the DLCs?

Depends on gameplay experience we're shooting for. Joe Sanabria, our art director for the DLCs, worked closely with the level builders so design and art reinforced each other and the DLC theme. We started with what we wanted the player to feel in the DLCs... in Dead Money, for example, we were specifically targeting isolation, terror, obscuring the player's view, claustrophobia, and the theme of greed - whether reflected in the decaying casino, the companion personalities, or the graffiti.